Friday, August 29, 2008

'New generation of Democrats embraces school choice'

Read about it here.

At least let parents choose

One of our readers has been leaving anonymous comments on this blog in which he or she, channeling Sara Mead, argues that it's wrong to use Oklahoma's woeful NAEP scores to discredit the state's much-ballyhooed preschool daycare program. But because our commenter has been doing so anonymously, I have not posted his or her comments. (The whole point of public discussion is that is should be, well, public.) Adam Schaeffer has already addressed this NAEP argument here and here, but he despairs that "the preschool evangelists will not shrivel before arguments or facts, for they believe. Their faith in preschool is strong and pure."

Even if that's the case, I would hope that even the most fervent preschool evangelist would acknowledge that parents should be able to choose the public or private preschool of their choice.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Democrats 'have been wrong on education'

Reporting on "union tensions" at the Democratic National Convention, Education Week's Michele McNeil says "the education event that followed the NEA luncheon showed the growing tensions within the Democratic Party over school reform, and the role of teachers’ unions." McNeil reports that anti-union sentiment
was strong and persistent at the standing-room-only, three-hour forum called Ed Challenge for Change. In fact, some of the big-city mayors who participated predicted that had such a forum been held four years ago, a mere five souls would have showed. ... The anti-union sentiment spilled over into policy forums that followed. The fight against the teachers’ unions and other special interests is a "battle at the heart of the Democratic Party," said Newark Mayor Cory Booker. "As Democrats, we have been wrong on education. It's time to get right."

Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington, D.C. Public Schools system, also chided the Democrats, reminding them that their party is "supposed to be the party that looks out for poor and minority kids."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dems promote choice, slam teacher unions

Educational freedom may get here sooner than I thought.

There's a new crack in the Berlin Wall, and it's a doozy. Here's Mickey Kaus reporting from the Democratic National Convention:
Cory Booker of Newark attacked teachers unions specifically—and there was applause. In a room of 500 people at the Democratic convention! "The politics are so vicious," Booker complained, remembering how he'd been told his political career would be over if he kept pushing school choice, how early on he'd gotten help from Republicans rather than from Democrats. The party would "have to admit as Democrats we have been wrong on education." Loud applause!

As Jon Alter, moderating the next panel, noted, it was hard to imagine this event happening at the previous Democratic conventions. (If it had there would have been maybe 15 people in the room, not 500.) Alter called it a "landmark" future historians should note.

Indeed, just as March 13, 2008 was a landmark in Oklahoma. Says Cato scholar Andrew Coulson, "a sea change in the politics of school choice has begun and it is hard to imagine how it might be stopped."

Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre and Rep. Jabar Shumate, two of my favorite state legislators (believe it!), are courageous trailblazers in their party. And perhaps help is on the way.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Back to school ...

... but still not enough choices.

When amateurs outperform professionals ...

... "there is something wrong with that profession," writes Thomas Sowell.
If ordinary people, with no medical training, could perform surgery in their kitchens with steak knives, and get results that were better than those of surgeons in hospital operating rooms, the whole medical profession would be discredited.

Yet it is common for ordinary parents, with no training in education, to homeschool their children and consistently produce better academic results than those of children educated by teachers with Master's degrees and in schools spending upwards of $10,000 a year per student—which is to say, more than a million dollars to educate ten kids from K through 12.

Nevertheless, we continue to take seriously the pretensions of educators who fail to educate, but who put on airs of having "professional" expertise beyond the understanding of mere parents.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Let's try universal pre-K ... choice

Today in The Wall Street Journal ('Protect Our Kids from Preschool'), Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell ask: "Is strapping a backpack on all 4-year-olds and sending them to preschool good for them?" Answer: "Not according to available evidence."
In the last half-century, U.S. preschool attendance has gone up to nearly 70% from 16%. But fourth-grade reading, science, and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—the nation's report card—have remained virtually stagnant since the early 1970s. ...

The results from Oklahoma and Georgia—both of which implemented universal preschool a decade or more ago—paint an equally dismal picture.

A 2006 analysis by Education Week found that Oklahoma and Georgia were among the 10 states that had made the least progress on NAEP. Oklahoma, in fact, lost ground after it embraced universal preschool: In 1992 its fourth and eighth graders tested one point above the national average in math. Now they are several points below. Ditto for reading.

Rather than looking to universal preschool, Dalmia and Snell write, politicians "should begin by fixing what is clearly broken: the K-12 system. The best way of doing that is by building on programs with a proven record of success. Many of these involve giving parents control over their own education dollars so that they have options other than dysfunctional public schools."

Educator-misconduct watch

The Associated Press reports that a "former Hilldale High School band director and the school have been ordered to pay $2.7 million to a student the teacher had sex with."

You may recall that a recent analysis by the Associated Press found that "sexual conduct plagues U.S. schools" and suggests that sexual misconduct among male schoolteachers is at least as common as among male priests. A 2004 U.S. Department of Education study found that one in 10 public school students is sexually harassed or abused by a teacher or other school employee at some point between kindergarten and 12th grade.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Homeschooling growth in Duncan

Homeschooling is a popular option in Stephens County, The Duncan Banner reports, saying "the growth in homeschoolers might be linked to several issues, such as safety concerns, moral instruction and dissatisfaction with the quality of education some students receive."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

'More elements of choice'

"We think public schools ought to have more elements of choice," my boss said in my hometown on Monday.

'A winning issue for any politician'

"Pick a category," says Cato's Adam Schaeffer—"rich, poor, old, young, white, black, Hispanic, Democrat, Republican, or even public school employees."

What do they all have in common? According to the recent Education Next/Harvard PEPG public-opinion survey, they all support education tax credits.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Do public schools accept all students?

School-choice opponents often make the claim (as the OEA did in April) that, unlike private schools, public schools must accept all students. But as education reporter Mike Antonucci points out, the Education Law Center in Pennsylvania has discovered that some school districts "improperly demand a child's Social Security card, a parent's photo identification or court custody order, or inquire into immigration status as a condition of enrollment." Indeed, ELC says that at least 162 of Pennsylvania's 501 school districts have either policies or practices that violate the state's enrollment laws.

One wonders if this is happening in Oklahoma, too.

A new Christian school ...

... is opening in Choctaw on September 2. Enrollment is currently open.

'Parents need choices' ...

... the right-thinking Tulsa Beacon editorializes.
The OEA is the most liberal and most powerful lobby group in Oklahoma. It has one goal—more money. Time after time, the Oklahoma Legislature has given more money to schools and the results have gotten worse.

Oklahoma education needs reform. Parents need choices, including charter schools, home schooling, tax credits and vouchers.

Pouring more money in a failed system is not the answer.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The audacity of HOPE

[This column by Brandon Dutcher appeared today in The Oklahoman.]

"There's a tradition in education," former New York City school chancellor Frank Macchiarola once observed, "that if you spend a dollar and it doesn't work, you should spend two dollars; and not only that, you should give those two dollars to the same person who couldn't do the job with only one."

As the nearby graphic illustrates, spending more money is no guarantee of success. Nevertheless, the state's most powerful labor union is spearheading a petition drive called HOPE (Helping Oklahoma Public Education) in an effort to get a constitutional amendment requiring Oklahoma to meet or exceed the regional average in per-pupil expenditures.

You may recall that a recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Oklahoma's public school system an F. The report said "student performance in Oklahoma is very poor—the state ranks among the lowest in the nation." And this is a school system on which Oklahoma taxpayers are already spending a small fortune.

In 2005, I teamed up with accountant Steve Anderson, formerly a public school teacher with 17 teaching certifications, to determine how much Oklahomans are paying for their schools. Not content with the "official" government reports, we computed all the expenditures that would be included on a regular financial statement. We discovered that Oklahoma's per-pupil cost in 2003—the latest year for which data were available—was $11,250.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman pronounced our report "splendid" and said it represented "a real public service." Teacher union official Roy Bishop was less enthusiastic. He dubbed the study "highly suspect," so we eagerly challenged the union to a public debate on the matter.

Thirty months later, we're still waiting to hear from them. We happily reissue the challenge today.

Let's be frank: The endgame here is to repeal or water down State Question 640, Oklahoma's tax-limitation amendment. HOPE is really about Hijacking Other People's Earnings.

The average Oklahoman already spends more time working to pay his taxes than he spends working to pay for food, clothing and shelter combined. The union doesn't care.

"The idea is to trigger a fiscal crisis and force Oklahomans to get rid of their tax-limitation provision if they want to keep the prisons open, fix the roads and bridges, or have enough DHS workers to investigate child abuse," says Oklahoma City University law professor Andrew Spiropoulos, director of the Center for the Study of State Constitutional Law and Government.

"In Nevada," Spiropoulos says, "the teachers union successfully went to court and convinced the state Supreme Court to nullify the state's supermajority requirement for tax increases and order the state legislature to raise taxes—so you can take more money from the people without actually having to get their consent or that of their representatives."

Oklahoma taxpayers are getting public school results at elite private school prices, yet the union demands more money—even if it means raising your taxes. Audacity, anyone?

Friday, August 15, 2008

School choice in Tulsa!

Alas, it's only public-school choice.

Horace Mann prophecy watch

Horace Mann, generally regarded as the father of America’s current public school system, once prophesied: "Let the Common School ... be worked with the efficiency of which it is susceptible, and nine tenths of the crimes in the penal code would become obsolete; the long catalogue of human ills would be abridged."

Or not. The Associated Press reports that a tiny Texas school district near the Oklahoma border "may be the first in the nation to allow teachers and staff to pack guns for protection when classes begin later this month." And why not? If teachers and other school employees could be in danger (as this sign from Edmond Memorial High School would seem to indicate), why should they be sitting ducks?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Parents must have choices

"I have lost sleep this summer knowing my kids and others could possibly wind up at a school where their academic success and physical safety are at great risk," parent Lydia Glaize writes today in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "A statewide voucher or scholarship program would be the great equalizer, providing the same education for those who live in fancy ZIP codes with fabulous public schools and the rest of us who work but do not have the resources to choose a first-class educational opportunity."

HT: Neal McCluskey

Monday, August 11, 2008

These are my principles. If you don't like 'em, I have others.

Roy Bishop, president of the state's most powerful labor union, is among those promoting a proposed constitutional amendment which would raise Oklahoma's per-pupil spending to the regional average.

But oddly enough, just last year Mr. Bishop argued that it was a bad idea to tie "state expenditures for public services to arbitrary formulas."

He said a proposed constitutional amendment "stands against representative democracy" in that it "shifts annual budget responsibilities away from our elected representatives and transfers it to a complicated formula."

Besides, he reminded us, "the state maintains many serious long-term obligations that require attention, including a crumbling transportation system unable to meet the demands of the 21st Century."

"How on earth would parents know which schools are best?"

This is a brilliant piece of satire, from the British sitcom Yes, Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has a brilliant idea for educational reform: Let parents choose where their children go to school. His cabinet secretary, Sir Humphrey, tries to defend the status quo.

Sir Humphrey's arguments will sound familiar, although he's more openly contemptuous of parents than school-choice opponents usually dare:

"You can't expect ordinary people to know where to send their children!"

"Parents have no qualifications to make these choices. Teachers are the professionals. Parents are the worst people to bring up children!"

Sir Humphrey doesn't think much of medical choice, either. At least he's consistent:

"I think letting people choose doctors is a very bad idea. Very messy. Much tidier to allocate people to [general practitioners]. Much fairer. Then we can even out the numbers, and every one has an equal chance of getting the bad doctors."

When the PM suggests abolishing the Department of Education if it gets in the way of his school choice reform, Sir Humphrey is appalled -- how can anything flourish without a government department to tend it. Another adviser fires back:

"Government departments are tombstones. The Department of Industry marks the grave of industry. The Department of the Environment marks the grave of the environment. And the Department of Education marks where the corpse of British education is buried."

Sir Humphrey's final defense of the Department of Education's raison d'ĂȘtre:

"Who would plan for the future?"

"Are you saying that education in Britain today is what the department planned?"

"Well, of course not!!"

(Via Club for Growth.)

School choice milestone in Ohio

"More than 1,000 preschool and K-12 students with autism are now using an Ohio state-sponsored scholarship program that provides an educational option for parents who are dissatisfied with the services their child is receiving in a traditional public school," School Choice Ohio reports.

Let's hope that this educational option "can be a part of the total solution for Oklahoma."

This is America—we can't have consumers shopping for things

I have pointed out that some Oklahoma parents are so desperate to get a better education for their kids that they will lie about their place of residence in order to get into a better school. Well, parents better not try that in Broward County, Florida. It could get them arrested. The Miami Herald reports that "Broward School Board members on Tuesday voted 6-3 to give district schools the right to report to authorities parents caught lying about their home addresses to get their kids into schools outside the area where they live." After all, the school board chairman argued, "There shouldn't be school shopping."

Friday, August 8, 2008

Even socialists 'appreciate the choice'

The Associated Press reports that school choice is spreading ... in Sweden.
Schools run by private enterprise? Free iPods and laptop computers to attract students?

It may sound out of place in Sweden, that paragon of taxpayer-funded cradle-to-grave welfare. But a sweeping reform of the school system has survived the critics and 16 years later is spreading and attracting interest abroad.

"I think most people, parents and children, appreciate the choice," said Bertil Ostberg, from the Ministry of Education. "You can decide what school you want to attend and that appeals to people."

Since the change was introduced in 1992 by a center-right government that briefly replaced the long-governing Social Democrats, the numbers have shot up. In 1992, 1.7 percent of high schoolers and 1 percent of elementary schoolchildren were privately educated. Now the figures are 17 percent and 9 percent.

I'm confident that school choice will also continue to spread in "America, the land of freedom and choice, except when it comes to your schools."

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Training seminar in Enid

The Enid News and Eagle reports that the grassroots organization Americans for Prosperity (Oklahoma chapter) is sponsoring a free training seminar on Friday. School choice is one of AFP's top issues for 2009.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Educator-misconduct watch

The Associated Press reports today that "a former band director at Haskell High School has pleaded guilty to forcible sodomy involving a former juvenile student."

You may recall that a recent analysis by the Associated Press found that "sexual conduct plagues U.S. schools" and suggests that sexual misconduct among male schoolteachers is at least as common as among male priests. A 2004 U.S. Department of Education study found that one in 10 public school students is sexually harassed or abused by a teacher or other school employee at some point between kindergarten and 12th grade.

Fostering more choices

The Stillwater NewsPress reports that the Oklahoma Department of Human Services is collecting school supplies for foster children. This is laudable, but Arizona has a better idea: provide school vouchers for foster care students.